COLUMBIA — Teachers and staff members at Ridgeway Elementary School attended their second iPad training day on Monday in preparation for the first day of school.
“We started with the basics, becoming familiar with the iPad,” Principal Ben Tilley said. Ridgeway Elementary purchased 12 iPads in mid-July with funding from the Parent Teacher Student Association. Each classroom will have a designated iPad for the teacher and students to use.
The PTSA has also committed to provide funding for 30 additional iPads, Jim Ries, president of the association, said.
The additional iPads will be stored in the media center on a cart that teachers can sign up to use in their classrooms, Tilley said, and he expects the remaining iPads to be purchased sometime in October.
“This is a new technology. It has a lot of possibilities,” Tilley said.
The school's focus will be on making the iPads an educational tool and "not just a game to play," Tilley said. "And so that’s something that we will monitor.”
Last May, the PTSA decided to cover the $998 cost of providing wireless Internet in the school and the $5,788 for the first 12 iPads.
Some apps, Tilley said, will be standard on all of Ridgeway’s iPads, such as Pages, a word processing program, and Keynote, a presentation tool. Other apps will be added to specific iPads, depending on the grade level or even individual students.
“There are thousands of apps that are available, and so there are just lots and lots of possibilities with the iPads and with individualizing different apps for kids,” Tilley said.
If a particular student is struggling with learning fractions, teachers can download an app to cater to the child’s needs.
Tilley used his personal iPad to demonstrate. One app, 1,000 Sight Words, teaches children how to read, recognize and spell the most frequently used words in the English language. A cartoon superhero dressed in a red cape guides users through the app’s three levels.
“It’s sort of in that game format, but it’s reinforcing a specific skill,” Tilley said. “It has a fun look to it, and it’s high interest.” Tilley is quick to point out that the apps are “not games,” but rather they’re “learning apps.”
“You have to start at the basics,” Valerie Harre, the school’s media specialist, said. “It sounds bad to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to teach them a few math games.’ Well, that’s part of the whole process of learning and then getting them to interact and become critical thinkers.”
Other apps focus on social aspects, like Bully Shield, an app that teaches what bullying is and how to deal with it. The Grouchies is an app that helps children understand their feelings.
Not all apps are free, so the PTSA has budgeted $30 per iPad per year, Tilley said. The school is seeking additional funding from the district and through grants.
Tilley first approached the PTSA about purchasing the iPads last January. “When I purchased my iPad, I realized, looking through the apps, the potential that it has for boys and girls,” he said. “Students have used my iPad and have been on some of the educational games, and they love it.”
Apple Inc. released the iPad on April 3, 2010, so the use of iPads in classrooms is a recent development. In a 2011 study by the Michael Cohen Group, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, researchers observed children between the ages of 2 and 8 using iPads. The study found that the iPad’s large touch screen kept students engaged and allowed them to learn in a natural way by touch, repetition and trial and error.
“Overall, children are enthusiastic about iPads," the study found. "However, the device alone does not guarantee engagement and learning.”
Tilley plans to monitor how the iPads affect student learning at Ridgeway.
“We’ll see," he said. "It still is a fairly new technology.”